Understanding the system

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Lansing Voices

Jadyn Newman

Note: The Lansing Journal covered the June 13 peaceful protest in Lansing, which involved several speeches under the Clock Tower. That article is posted here, and we invited the speakers to submit their speeches to our “Lansing Voices” feature.

“Once you recognize and understand the system,” said Jadyn Newman, the final speaker at the June 13 event, “fighting to change it feels more manageable.” (Photo: Dan Bovino)

The period of isolation during the past few weeks has presented us with an opportunity unlike any we have been given in a long time, a period for uninterrupted reflection. Like many of you, I have had a lot to think about while in quarantine. You may have noticed that for the past couple of weeks, people across our nation have been thinking deeply and critically about the racial injustice that plagues America.

Personally, my reflection on this issue has been strongest within the past nine months. I recently moved from here to Washington, DC, and for the first time in my life, I was in a predominantly white living and learning environment. As I started college at American University, navigating a new life surrounded by some of America’s most privileged students, I was forced to recognize the intersections between my Blackness, my education, and my relationships. This change was eye-opening, and scary, and frustrating, and often incredibly difficult.

And Black students, I want to express to you that I understand.

I understand what it feels like to sit in history class and see the entire history of your people be condensed into two short chapters about slavery and Dr. Martin Luther King.

I understand how exhausting it is to have to constantly prove that you deserve to occupy the space in which you find yourself. To have to prove your intelligence and your work ethic, your professionalism and your capability, because those things are not automatically assumed of you.

I understand how frustrating it is to have to adjust your language, your fashion, and your demeanor because they can unfairly and inappropriately be considered distracting, obnoxious or even threatening when paired with the color of your skin.

I understand how difficult it is to feel like everything you do must be done with excellence, or it won’t be considered worthwhile.

I understand the trauma of seeing one of the cops in our town making national news for pinning down a Black teenager and threatening to take his life.

When faced with hundreds of years of pain and oppression it is easy to feel like the whole world is working against you. As if whatever you do won’t be enough. Like pushing for change is a lost cause — because many believe we are too far gone. It can feel like the problems we face are too big and too complex to try to change. Like the wounds are too deep to ever heal.

I imagine many of you are feeling angry and sad and hopeless. I am too, but I really want to push you to use that feeling as a catalyst in your fight for social change. Let that fuel you. Channel that into your activism.

So what does that look like?

First, we must recognize the systems, policies, and practices in place that continually harm marginalized groups of people and contribute to the cycle of oppression in our communities. This means reflecting on the parts of our identities that benefit from these systems and the parts of our identities that are pushed down by these systems. I encourage you to examine where you hold privilege.

Are you white? Do you identify as straight? Are you cisgender? Do you have lighter skin? Is English your first language? Do you live in a two-parent household? Is your family financially stable? Do you have any disabilities, visible or not?

There are ways in which we are personally impacted by the systems, policies, and practices that hold our institutions together. If you hold a lot of privilege, you must use it to dismantle systems that fuel injustice. If you are part of a marginalized group that is disadvantaged by these systems, you must find ways to fight it as you suffer from its effects, which is very difficult to do.

Once you recognize the system (and begin to hate it, probably), your next job is to understand it. You have SO many options if you understand the system.

Understanding how “the system” functions means examining the chain of command. If you witness or experience injustice, who can you go to for help?

Think of your school. If you have a problem, first you go to your teacher. If your teacher won’t help you, go to your counselor. If your counselor won’t help you, go to the principal. And if the principal won’t help you, go to the superintendent. You can find the superintendent contact info on the school district’s website. If the superintendent doesn’t hear you, it’s time to talk to the school board. Did you know that you are completely free to show up at any school board meeting and you can talk directly to the school board for five minutes about whatever you want during the public comment portion of the meeting? You fill out a form, hand it in to the recording secretary, and they call on you to speak. Information on where and when the school board meets can be found on the school district website.

The same thing applies to local government officials, and their bosses, the state government officials. Our State Representative, Marcus Evans, and State Senator, Elgie Sims, are both active on social media and easy to get in touch with via email. Hardly anyone is out of reach for you.

Once you recognize and understand the system, fighting to change it feels more manageable.

We all know that it is far from easy — ask any agent of change from our history:

  • I’m guessing Malcom X wasn’t thrilled to wake up every morning and have his life threatened by racists.
  • I don’t think Colin Kaepernik would tell you it’s easy to stand up (or in his case, kneel) for what you believe in when your career is on the line.
  • I doubt Beyonce would say that being a successful Black woman in the music industry is free of struggle.
  • Even Barack Obama would probably tell you that being the first Black president wasn’t exactly a walk in the park.

What I really want to say… is this:


I understand how hard it is to feel responsible for fixing a world that was handed to you broken. Four hundred years of injustice CANNOT be easily erased. I understand that change is easier said than done. But I am proud of you because you’re here. I’m proud of you because you have made an effort. I’m proud of us because we’re. still. fighting.

I want you to take all of your fear and sadness and anger and disappointment, and transform it into passion. Because when we have passion, we have purpose. When we have purpose, we are compelled to take action.

Take action in your school, in your community, and most certainly in the ballot box. You can register to vote TODAY. You can get online and write a letter to our government officials TODAY. Let your emotion turn to passion, let your passion turn to purpose, let your purpose turn to potential.

Our great grandparents watched as Malcom X, Martin Luther King, and countless others were murdered during the civil rights movement. Our grandparents watched as Black students suffered during the integration process of public schools. Our parents watched as Rodney King was beaten and the widespread awareness for police brutality increased across the nation.

I saw a protest sign the other day that said “you effed with the last generation.” And I truly believe that.

Jadyn Newman, TF South alum


Lansing Voices is our version of “Letters to the Editor.” The opinions posted here are those of the writer, and posting them does not indicate endorsement by The Lansing Journal. We welcome input from fellow residents who have thoughtful things to say about topics that are important to our community. Send your submissions to The Lansing Journal with “Voices” in the subject line.

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